Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Live + On Record: Bebe Buell, The Naturals, Dany Laj and The Looks, Giftshop, Low Doses, The Hell Yeah Babies, Stevie6String

After what seemed to be an exceedingly long winter, springtime finally arrived in New York City during the final days of April and now deep into May. The softer air breezes and budding flowers serve to express a feeling of rebirth and growth. Everywhere you look there's something new sprouting out of the ground, which can inspire a fresh attitude in one's forward moving spiritual journey. As always, there are new album's to explore and live shows to attend. Documented below are some of the more significant recent events attended and new music releases by artists staking their claim on the elusive and timeless appeal of popular song.

On April 29th Bebe Buell once again brought her "Baring It All" show to New York City at the storied Public Theater venue Joe's Pub.  Accompanied by her outstanding band of Nashville musicians, the event served as the official NYC record release show for her latest album Baring It All: Greetings From Nashbury Park

The new album stands as the culmination of a four year journey and recording process taking Ms. Buell from NY/NJ to Nashville and back to Asbury Park, NJ for the finishing touches.  Along the way Bebe has re-established her early southern roots by immersing herself in the ever evolving Nashville music community.

The album boasts 11 new songs with the final track covering an all-time classic.   All twelve were impeccably played on this night with two additional cover songs included as an added bonus.

Kicking off the show with uptempo, hard rock stomper "Cross My Legs," the eager audience immediately responded to this electric-charged atmosphere.  As the heavy-hook riff locked it in, Bebe delivered autobiographical lyrics of her star-crossed life story.   "I've been here before," she begins, ultimately leading to the declaration "there's a lot more to me than what I did in my youth."  There are elements of Bowie's "Suffragette City" (staccato piano) and The Stones "Jumpin' Jack Flash" (chunky chord progression) in instantly catchy "Maybe, Maybe, Baby" chorus.

That was followed by her heartfelt anti-bullying anthem "Invisible."  This solid, mid-tempo pop-rocker delivers the perfect response to any attempt at lowering your self esteem.  “You can't hurt me, you can't touch me, I'm invisible. Words won't haunt me, you can't taunt me, you're invisible" is how the catchy chorus goes.  Doubled harmony vocals on the lines “I don't have to run, go ahead have your fun” adds musical weight leading up to the solo reply line “'cause you can't get to me.”

Listen to a live clip of the song from this evening's performance here.

Her outstanding band for this performance were the same musicians who contributed their respective parts to the album.   It all starts with her husband guitarist Jimmy Walls, who produced the album and contributed to much of the songwriting.   The backbeat was impressively delivered by drummer Sandy Gennaro, noted for his precision work in Joan Jett and Cyndi Lauper's bands.  Bassist Dave Roe is something of a Nashville legend, having played in Johnny Cash's band and more recently with Dan Auerbach (of The Black Keys).  Last but certainly not least were the contributions of Peter Gallinari, whose keyboard skills were matched by his pitch-perfect backing vocals.

Emerging as a straight-on four-on-the-floor rocker, “Frenemy Mine” features expansive organ textures and chunky r 'n b rhythm guitar chords.  As Bebe explains the sometimes sticky situations dealing with people who straddle the line between friend and enemy (hence the now accepted term “frenemy”) she reveals the song title itself was inspired by the sci-fi film “Enemy Mine.” 
Some favorite lyrics go  “you've got it made in the shade – with this little charade” -  “which one of your faces, am I talking to?” and “I'll give you my time – but not another dime.”

Introducing the next song as an attempt to move past “hurt feelings” for a greater good, they launched into the redemptive “Can You Forgive.”  While the album version features a prominent harmonica part woven throughout, this performance emphasized the other instruments, and of course Bebe's voice.  The easy vibe groove and subtle country sway creates a calming effect for these pointedly specific lyrics.  While the theme explored can certainly apply universally (“still singing the same old song – about who's right and who's wrong, you got to let it go”) it's direct message nature to extended family member Todd Rundgren comes with a sincere desire to make amends.

Continuing the album sequence (with only the lead track bumped forward for mid show placement) chiming western guitar rocker “Coming To A Head” tells a tale of how you-done-me-wrong-and-now-you're-gone. “What will you do – when your world has come unglued – when the finger of fate is pointing back at you,” she sings.

At the shows center point came the album's opening track and first single "By A Woman."  Co-written with friend and sometime writing partner Sally Tiven, Bebe has been quoted as saying how this song of female empowerment also stands for the fight against all the "isms" - sexism, ageism and everything-ism.  Check out this song via the officially released lyric video:

Jimmy rocks out on his black Les Paul

Returning to the album sequence, "Too Sweet" pulled the audience into it's funk-n-soul filled groove.  As Bebe recalls her storied history with New York City, the ups and downs experienced finds her asking if she was in fact "too sweet" for this town.  Coincidentally (or perhaps not so) there is a pivotal line in Cameron Crowe's seminal rock film "Almost Famous" where Penny Lane (based in large part on Bebe's early years) tells young journalist William Miller (based on Crowe's own life) that he is simply "too sweet" for rock and roll.  It's a scene worth checking out (the whole film is) right here at the 1:39 mark.

“Hello Music City” finds Bebe fully embracing her new found Nashville roots. Autobiographical of her more recent journeys (as opposed to those decade spanning songs) a sweet southern charm emerges within the songs arrangement.

Referencing the next song being about those who try to feed off that special energy inside each of us, the band launched into the albums 9th track “So Sookie.” Inspired by the popular True Blood character Sookie Stackhouse, a deep-twang guitar groove sets the mysterious and somewhat ominous mood. Singing about “fairy blood” in deep resonant tones that bring to mind Marianne Faithfull's “Broken English,” the essential hook asks “you wonder of course, how I got my force” to be revealed as “the original source.”

Jimmy's white model works best for recreating those pedal steel tones

Altering the album order ever so slightly, the band launched into audience favorite “Secret Sister.” Bebe certainly has had her share of celebrated friends over the years who might qualify for inclusion here (the lyric “are we parallel lines?” would certainly suggest long-time friend Debbie Harry as a potential candidate). However, the lines “I've wondered all these years, but I had so many fears” - “are we flesh and blood?”- “you look so much like me” - “you feel like family” and the bridge - “can't we find a way – do we share DNA? Is it just my mind? Are you my kin and kind?” suggest much of this being about her daughter's discovery of her own actual not-so-secret-now sister.  Jimmy Walls also takes a star turn here with an impressive, soulful wah-wah guitar solo.

Choosing this point in the show for a more intimate moment, Bebe performed the albums final track, a cover of “Yesterday When I Was Young.” French singer-songwriter Charles Aznavour initially wrote and first recorded this in 1964 as "Hier Encore," or "Only Yesterday."  Herbert Kretzmer was responsible for translating it into the English language. Having been famously covered many times since then (Roy Clark had a top 10 country chart hit with it in 1969 and Dusty Springfield's powerful voice in the early 70's serve as standout versions), Bebe does justice to the emotionally charged lyrics.

Bebe and her band then surprised the audience by playing a note perfect rendition of the Prince classic "Little Red Corvette."  To hear Bebe actually sing the lyrics "Baby you're much too fast" (which has always sounded a lot like "Bebe you're much too fast") was one of the evenings truly unexpected delights.

The final full band song of the night was the album's 10th track "Guilty As Charged."  Along with it's clever "crime" themed lyrics, Jimmy Walls really stretches out with a soulful, blusey solo on this one.  Check out a clip of this night's performance here.

As the band left the stage, Bebe stood with the spotlight shining down on her alone and delivered a from-the-heart Acapella rendition of the Leon Russell and Bonnie Bramlett penned "Superstar."  Most people are familiar with The Carpenters hit single version, but on this evening Bebe made it all her own.

After the show were opportunities to meet and chat with the performers!

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Including table mates like Gig Lizzy and seminal rocker Richard Barone.

Bob Gruen because he's a legend.

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Another legend - May Pang

Bebe's shows are the place to be!

A view down 6th Street showed the Full Pink Moon rising into the sky.

Later that night (early morning) over Long Island with the "evening star" (Venus) also visible.

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Pick up her new album “BARING IT ALL: Greetings From Nashbury Park” which is available everywhere in all formats (digital, CD, Vinyl) ... Amazon, Spotify, iTunes, Google Music, etc... world 🌎 wide!

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Thursday, May 3rd provided ample reason to venture into the heart of Williamsburg, Brooklyn for a triple bill of pop rock 'n roll music.

Matt Clarke and the WFMU Rock n' Soul Ichiban crew (including the one and only Toddophonic) threw a party at Diviera Drive with three bands that perfectly matched this classic theme.

First up were New York City retro power pop rockers The Naturals.

Opening the show with rave up rocker “Not Satisfied” (from their "play” record), the solo penned Jason Szkutek number leaned heavily on a rough-edged, John Lennon-esque vocal style and quick paced rhythms.

That was followed by another (unreleased) original - “Kids Don't” - which we were soon to discover how “the kids don't understand – that you're trying to be different to belong,” but that “now it's taking too long.”  Elements of The Clash emerge in various sections via distinct vocal phrasing and ska bass against sharp strummed guitar chords.

Weaving in numerous like-minded covers throughout the set, their rendition of The Undertones “Teenage Kicks” recreated all the energy and excitement of the original.  When they hit that hook “I wanna hold her, wanna hold her tight – got teenage kicks all through the night,” it couldn't help but bring you back to the first time you heard this classic.

Dipping back into their “play” album, “Maybe Start Again” delivered on the promise of a “retro rickenbacker riot” and this night's performance was captured here.

Other highlight songs played was the (still unreleased) “Something New” (perhaps finally on their next record?) which captures that Beatles-y essence run through Big Star's Americana filter.

Another classic cover to hit the punky English mod-revival mark was their version of The Jam's "Art School." 

With a nod to the early aughts and influential NYC bands like The Strokes, a swinging stomp and conversational storytelling style emanated throughout their own composition “No Service.”

Delighting the audience with another unexpected cover, the band capped off the night and had everyone singing along with The Records 1979 hit single "Starry Eyes." The song is arguably the most perfect combination of hooky guitar licks, clever scathing lyrics and vocal harmonies recorded over the last four decades.
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The interior of Diviera Drive displays an automotive theme.

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With the WFMU DJ's potentially able to take care of your inspection requirements.

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Next up were a band previously covered on this site by yours truly (and in The Deli Mag) - Low Doses.

Two years ago songwriter, guitarist and lead singer Ryan Masterson shared thoughts about the thrills of initial attraction on head bobbing single “In Love Again.”

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Appearing on this night with a revamped lineup, the band had doubled-down on tandem female harmony vocals and thunder-crack percussion.

Their latest single “Weekend Warrior” serves as a primary example of how jangly guitars, tandem boy-girl vocals and a straightforward beat can drive the catchiest melodies.

Flipside track “One More Try” comes on quicker and with a late 70's vibe that melds the garage rock of The Standells with look sharp sneer of Joe Jackson.

A box full of music.

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Returning to New York City after their memorable appearance with The Rubinoos and Baby Shakes here last year, hooks and harmonies pop rockers Dany Laj and the Looks capped off the night with their stellar performance.

Representing the northeast towns and cities of Canada, Laj and The Looks credits places like Quebec City, Kirkland Lake Ontario, Toronto and Montreal for providing the roots for their ongoing journey.

Playing a road tested set of 15 songs, the bands drew from their catalog that included full-length album "Alive + Kicking," single release "Sweet Pretender" (backed with "Diamond In The Rough") and split single "Left Right To One."

As their most recent physical release (there is a new album in the works) "Left Right To One" serves as both a pop travel song and musical partnership diary.

Other primo tracks like Alive + Kicking's opener "Mr. Screaming Attitude" captures the energy and spirit of Alex Chilton and Paul Westerberg - both in delivery and lyrical content.  Bonus points for name checking Montreal's great NHL franchise with the line "the Habs are only down by 1."

While taking a moment to tune up for the next song "Sweet Pretender," bassist and vocalist Jeanette cracked that the song might be better titled "Sweet Pre-tune-der," at which point she said perhaps she should leave the band right now for that pun.  To which Dany replied "no way, you have to drive us to the next gig."

Other good time party pop tunes played were the upbeat "Planet of Fun," punchy accented "Defending Champion," and noisy guitar rocker "Diamond In The Rough" which contains the great lyric "I don't want to be dumb anymore - don't want to be criticized."

Discs and platters to be had.

Catching up with the road warrior - underneath that winged Pegasus.

Last year when they were here in July.

Catch up with all things Dany Laj and The Looks right here.

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Sunday May 13th may have been Mother's Day (and most certainly mother's were appropriately celebrated and honored) but it was also a wonderful opportunity to kick off the outdoor concert season.

Despite the occasional early afternoon rain shower, featured performers Giftshop ripped through a glorious set that drew in equal measure from their back catalog as well as a few surprise cover songs.

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The event was held in the lower east side's Tompkins Square park as part of a "Spring Music Fest"

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Popular early tracks like the crowd pleasing “Peach Girl” weaves early Blondie sneer (see the Richard Gottehrer produced debut album and “Rip Her To Shreds") with a classic Ramones style “Hey! OK! Hey!” vocal breaks.

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While other deep cuts like “Shine” starts out as a heavy chugger (and maintains much of that vibe throughout), it's the catchy sing-along hook “nothing you can do can change the way I feel about you” and “nothing you can say can change the way I feel today” that compels you to sing along.

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The first surprise cover played came by way of a few reverent words spoken a bout it's dear departed creator. The band then launched into a note-perfect rendition of Motorhead's (and Lemmy Kilmister's) “Ace of Spades.”

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Even more impressive was a cover of the complex Police track “Synchronicity 2.”  Once again the band nailed the songs nuances, recreating that early 1980's atmosphere.

Sunday in the Park with Giftshop

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Earlier in the afternoon, Astoria Queens based garage pop rockers The Hell Yeah Babies delighted park denizens and intentional audience members alike with their enthusiastic power pop.

Having recently released their debut album "All The Things That You Believe," the band proceeded to reproduce much of the good time vibe embedded in those songs.

Record opener “Attababy” defines millennial angst with clever lyrics, while employing elements of 50's and 60's rock and roll structures.

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“Dogs of War” locks on to that Elvis Costello/Nick Lowe/Rockpile late 70's/early 80's period of wordy “new wave” rock (with a nod to Buddy Holly) while using the “war” metaphor as catalyst for what appears to be more of a break up song.

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Modern romance is now defined these days it seems by amusing songs like “Vampire Girlfriend.” The glammy goth look has always been a popular one in the rock world and some girls embrace it more than others. They might even believe at least half of the spirit myths associated with it.   THYB's teen longing ode of devotion to one of them comes packaged with three part harmonies and as many hooked-filled sections.

In fact, along with the well-crafted songwriting, that is this bands greatest strength.  Three individuals upfront with great voices, each singing lead on their own songs while the other two provide essential backing vocals.

There is a lot to like about The Hell Yeah Babies, and you can find out more about them here.

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Opening the day's activities was a solo guitar gunslinger named Stevie6String.

 Although playing to backing tracks (a common practice when you are by yourself) his solid blues playing and overall tone made you stand up and take notice.

Captured here is a brief clip of how he sounded on this day - playing another Stevie's (Ray Vaughan) classic track "Crossfire."

Park side good times.

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